SEWICKLEY, Pa. - A high school football season is made up of 10 weeks of fight, strength, determination and a will-to-win. It's something Quaker Valley High School's Ricky and Isaac Guss witnessed not only on the field, but also at home.
For senior quarterback Ricky and his brother, junior linebacker Isaac, it's been a season of extreme highs and frightening lows.
It's been a season where the small victories often meant more than the big ones. It's been a season where success was measured by friends, family, community and a lot of hope.
The diagnosis came two days after Christmas 2016. Ricky and Isaac's mother, Julie, had ovarian cancer. Doctors determined it was Stage III, and it was spreading.
"I couldn't put into words the weight of that news," Julie said.
It was devastating news for her family.
"Cancer is a big scary word, especially with a family as close as us," Ricky added. "I never thought she wouldn't be here, but it was hard to think that something could happen."
According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance, 60 percent of all cases aren't diagnosed until the cancer is at Stage III, meaning it has spread.
Julie Guss underwent an eight-hour surgery, which doctors called a success. Next came chemotherapy, and with it, uncertainty.
"She’s going through chemo. You don't know if she's getting better or not. You just know she's getting treatment," Ricky said.
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"I'm not afraid of dying. That wasn't my biggest fear," Julie said. "I would've been very sad, had my story gone differently, for my kids. Because it would have been horrible for my kids. My family loves me."
Through it all, football was an escape for the Guss family. Julie described Friday nights watching her boys under the lights as getting to go on vacation every week. But there were also struggles on the field.
The Quakers head coach resigned just days before the season started, and many predicted the team wouldn't win a game.
Those predictions were wrong. Quaker Valley is headed into the playoffs with nine wins. Their only loss of the season came to undefeated Aliquippa.
The Guss brothers also go into the playoffs with good news. Doctors just declared their mom cancer-free.
"One is nowhere near as miraculous and (worth) appreciating as the other," Ricky said. "I don't know if it's God's grace or luck that has given us these opportunities."
Isaac gives all the credit to his mom.
"I have a lot of my friends of the team that talk to my mom all the time, and I know she loves getting the support of my teammates. It's all for her."
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